Unedited, Uncensored, Unsettling…
Welcome to another Stitched Saturday! This week we have a bumper selection of stories by myself, Draven Ames and Mike L Lane – all the stories were inspired by the picture that precedes them. This weeks excellent inspirational pictures were chosen by the aforementioned Mike 🙂
There’ll be another Stitched Saturday Flash Fiction challenge along next week.. Keep your eye on the Stitched Smile blog and web pages for more information – and if you haven’t already, why not join the Stitched Smile Groupies page on facebook?
The Hand of Gloria – David Court
Authors Note: As a preface to this little tale, I’d like to offer my profuse apologies for what you’re about to be subjected to. I’m truly very, very sorry.
Not all stories end up with justice served, mused Bélanger as he drove away from the dig site. He smiled wryly, affording himself a quick glimpse at the chests of antique coins that filled the back of his jeep. Sometimes the bad guy gets away with it Scot free, and the good guys all die horribly. Sometimes the story of finding mysterious hidden ancient treasure goes from a rip-roaring action adventure to being a horror story. And even Bélanger couldn’t place exactly when that happened.
“What do you mean it’s gone?” snapped Professor Crowther, his tone having gone from enthusiastic to incredulous within a single heartbeat.
“Like I said, it’s empty,” came the downhearted reply. Professor Abbot stared in disbelief through the neatly bored hole into the vacant chamber. Where there should have been treasure chests filled to the brim with coins from the lost-forgotten Axumite empire, there was nothing left except for the fizzling and decaying yellow flare that they’d thrown in.
“But… but…” Crowther spat out like a malfunctioning outboard motor, “We’ve spent four days defusing ancient traps. Unlocking the ancient puzzles of arcane tomes.”
“Not to mention the eldritch ones,” interjected Abbot.
“Unlocking the ancient puzzles of arcane and eldritch tomes. Yes. There’s only one way anybody could have done that. They’d have needed… a Hand of Glory.”
“A Hand of Glory?” asked Abbot, stepping over to join his colleague. “Like in the Wicker Man?”
Professor Kelly – who’d previously been occupying herself attempting to unlock one of the antechambers that led away from this main concourse – piped up.
“The original or the remake? Many revile the latter, but I feel that LaBute did a successful job of adapting a central pagan theme to a more feminist centered one. Admittedly, it’s flawed, but…”
Crowther silenced her with a single noisy shush and a single raised finger. A vicious glare indicated that only those who majored in history and not in film studies could take part in the remainder of this conversation.
“The Hand of Glory is a common motif in many cultures,” expounded Crowther. “But in the case of the Axumites, this relic could only be carried by the priests of the highest orders. It’s another example of how they’d mastered organic/mechanical science thousands of years ago. A literal skeleton key, the bio-electric mechanism of which was housed within a human hand – typically, the hand of deceased royalty. If my theory is correct, when powered, it would emit light of a frequency that would enable the priests to navigate through the traps unhindered.”
“Like this one?” asked Professor Kelly, stepping into the light with what looked like the carcass of a large fossilized insect. The three stared at it. It was a atrophied severed human hand which clutched tightly to a gel filled vial. Even after all these years, the liquid still shone with a vague dull luminescence.
A Hand of Glory.
“So, somebody came here before us and found a Hand of Glory. But how did they power it up?”
“I think I might have found your answer,” smiled Professor Kelly.
The antechamber was smaller than the rest, and housed an elegant yet ancient mechanism. Bleached skeletons draped in rotting rags lay scattered randomly about the floors and against the walls. A custom-shaped bowl at the device’s base looked like it could comfortably hold the Hand of Glory, and a large drain above it looked like it would hold liquid which pour into the bowl.
Sadly, exposed to the air years before, the wooden components had rotted into so much mulch and it would never work again. However, from previous research, Crowther recognised the technology. The process of pouring liquid into the device would in turn set various pumps into action, charging the liquid electrically and powering up the gel container that the Hand of Glory clutched onto so tightly. As for how to get the liquid into the device, well…
Hieroglyphs plastered across the device and the walls indicated the kind of liquid necessary for the charging process to work.
Blood. It would take a sacrifice from the priests to power the Hand.
But not a complete sacrifice. There was another symbol which Crowther recognised. A five-fingered symbol.
“This is madness, Bélanger! ” screamed Doctor Hill. “You’ll never get away with this!”. He looked around at the other members of the Research Team, all of whom were either dying from blood-loss or already dead. His beloved assistant Gloria had been the first to die at Bélanger’s hand. It was now too late to ever tell her that he’d always loved her.
“I believe that I will, Monsieur.” smirked Bélanger, levelling the small pistol at Hill’s face. “Nobody knows that we are ‘ere – even your own University forbade you from this little… trip. You ‘ave a simple choice. Place your hands into the mechanism, or I shoot you where you stand and do it for you. At least with ze former, you ‘ave a chance.”
“Curse you, Bélanger!” spat Hill, wincing as he slowly moved his hands towards the hole on the device. As his hand moved closer he could feel the whooshing of the blades inside, hear the violent scraping of metal against metal.
He screamed aloud as the scythe-like edges sliced through flesh and bone alike. The smell of blood filled his senses as he jerked back, staring in horror at the fragments of gristle and pulped red flesh that hung from his ruined wrists. A single bullet to the forehead silenced Hill instantly. He staggered back three steps before slumping against the wall, dead.
“I am sorry, monsieur,” said Bélanger, reaching his hand into blood filled container and grabbing the glowing artifact within, “but needs must.”
Crowther pulled fragments out of the base of the long dead mechanism – pink shards of finger and fragmented wrist-bones.
“Are they…?” asked Kelly, horrified.
“They are” said Crowther, solemnly.
“It was many, many hands that made the light work.”
The Wishing Well – by Draven Ames
“Benjamin…” came a low voice.
Shadows danced across the thirteen year-old’s bedroom like fangs searching for a victim. Dark silhouettes with slender arms stretched across the walls, getting closer to the edge of his bed. He shot up from his pillow, seeing a white light shining from somewhere outside his second-story window. The farm grew alive as animals started to neigh and cluck, creating chaos. At first, Benjamin thought his parents were home from their night out on the town, but he crept up to the window and saw the driveway lay empty. Instead, illumination came from the other side of the farm, filtering up from the stone well their property drew water from.
“No fricken way,” he mumbled. He grabbed his phone and took a picture, but the photo just looked like a flashlight being shun from across the farm. He had to get closer.
Benjamin wondered what the light could be and, as curiosity got the better of him, he finally slipped out the backdoor, with a backpack (just in case there was something to bring back), and his cell phone. He turned on the flashlight app from his phone and carefully made his way past the ducks, quacking like crazy, and the geese, hissing and honking. Both slapped against their fences, fighting to be released from their entrapment. The horses slammed their feet against the doors of the barn, kicking and neighing, as if some beast hid within their midst. Benjamin couldn’t help but feel his heart thumping around in his chest, threatening to break free like the animals on his parent’s farm.
Crossing the massive property, Benjamin cornered around the barn and came in full view of the well. The app on his phone turned off and would not turn back on. Touching the screen, he could not get the cell to respond.
“Benjamin…” a voice, low and full of gravel, whispered.
He looked up. Pure, white light rose from the center of the well, like the water was on fire, only the wrong color. Forgetting his phone, he stepped forward, putting his hands in front of his face. The well, normally only a few feet wide, now encompassed a huge part of the ground. Gray stones laid in a circular pattern around the hole, extending out from the ground, protruding at some points, pushed into the ground in other spots.
“Benjamin…” came the voice again.
“Who’s there?” the boy asked, stepping backward. His heartbeat grew faster and he started sweating.
“We…” said many voices.
Benjamin slapped his phone a few times, trying to make it work, but the picture scattered and then turned off. There was no way his friends would believe what he was seeing, let alone his parents. “Where are you?” he asked. “What do you want?”
“The question is…” the deep voices grumbled together. “What do you want?”
Benjamin hesitated. “Wuh-what do I want?”
“You have one … wish.”
Benjamin took his backpack off and sat it on the ground. “No way.”
“We don’t … have long. Make your wish.”
Benjamin could not believe his luck. He thought of wishing for money, but how boring would that be? Besides, his parents had plenty of money and a nice home, complete with every video game system a young boy could dream of. He thought of asking for no more school, but he was pretty popular and would miss his friends. Then he had it. “I guess …”
“Make your wish.”
“I wuh-want to see you. I want a picture of me meeting you, so my friends will believe this happened.”
“Granted. Set your device on the rocks behind you, and we will … appear for you. One picture is all you get.”
Benjamin did as he was bade, placing his phone on a couple of loose rocks he stacked up and aiming it the direction of the hole.
“Come closer.” The voices said in unison.
Benjamin swallowed hard before edging closer, one step at a time. “I’m close enough.”
“Closer child,” the voices said.
Benjamin looked around, but no one was there for reassurance. He wiped his brow and took four steps further before stopping. “I’m not coming any closer. Can I see you now?”
The white light of the well went dark, and all at once the world became enveloped in ebony. Stars did not shine. The moon was gone. Even the lights around the farm went dead.
Benjamin could not even see his own hands. “I made my wish! This isn’t fair. You said I could see you. You said!”
“We … are … here,” came the many voices.
Then the well lit up for a brief second. The flash on Benjamin’s camera went off once, capturing the creatures all around Benjamin in one single frame. Standing all around the well, surrounding the boy, huddled many mummified bodies with long, slender arms and bandaged faces. They had no mouths or eyes, but they all shuffled closer – he could hear their feet scraping on the stone. Near Benjamin, one tall creature reached out for him with long, clawed fingers, boney and gray. Its white eyes reflected nothing; its jagged teeth clamped and stamped; upon its head were two horns, one curved inward and the other broken at the base. Its slender ears went up and out, and the creature had to be at least twice Benjamin’s size.
As quickly as the camera flash came, it went. The world once against turned pitch black.
“And now for our wish.”
Benjamin turned to flee, but he tripped on unseen stones. He screamed and crawled along the ground, trying to get away. “What do you want?”
Many hands grabbed at him with fierce strength, hurting him, crushing his fragile body. Many teeth sunk into him, grinding his bones, tearing his flesh. Many voices whispered, telling him. “We wished for you.”
Four Square Meals – Mike L Lane
Getting into Hell was easy enough for Barry. When the portal opened in his backyard, he simply climbed down and made the Underworld his personal playground. He played fetch with Cerberus, hide ‘n seek with shadow-demons and even rode the sand-a-pede worm across the Malebolge. It had been fun, but when he grew bored and longed for home, escaping Hell wasn’t so easy. If not for Grimtar and the Weavers, he would still be there.
“Let’s eat him,” Huncher hissed in Grimtar’s ear. A pointed tongue licked the edges of his mangled lips. “Huncher knows sweet-meat. He’s sweet indeed.”
Grimtar swatted the Weaver like a pestering gnat and Huncher flew through a wall. Grimtar was much stronger than the rest, but there was something different about him that even he wasn’t aware of. As Huncher crawled from the hole, Barry noticed bright energy radiating around him where light crackled in the crumbling bricks. Wisps of electrical smoke trailed the edges and Barry caught a shimmering glimpse of an oak tree and a tire swing. Smoke quickly swirled around this vision and the wall closed in on itself. He knew that tree well. It was his backyard.
“Huncher always hungry,” Grimtar grunted. His long, twisted fingers stifled a yawn. The rank smell burned Barry’s nostrils forcing him to turn away, but not before noticing the same blue energy crackling within the demon’s hand. “What is name, smooth flesh?”
“I’m Barry,” he answered. He straightened his posture as if he had been sent to the principal’s office. His mother taught him it was always best to meet problems head on with confidence. He supposed the rule applied in Hell, too.
“Berry?” Huncher squealed. “Like a plump, juicy meat-fruit?”
Grimtar shot Huncher a warning glance and he retreated.
“Grimtar,” the demon said, pounding his chest. Blue embers fell from the thud. “We play. You toy.”
“I know a game,” Barry said. Opposing the idea of becoming Grimtar’s plaything, he seized the opportunity. “I’ll teach you Four Square.”
Grimtar’s eyes glowed and his lips curled around the edges. He liked games.
“We’ll need chalk and a kickball,” Barry added.
With a sound like rumbling thunder that startled the Weavers, Grimtar snapped off one of his horns and handed it to Barry. “Teach.”
Barry etched out a large square box on the ground evenly divided by four smaller squares. The horn’s tip burned like a welding rod and wisps of smoke trailed behind it.
“We’ll need a ball,” Barry said. Grimtar’s puzzled expression prompted further explanation. He put his hands apart in the shape of a circle. “Something round and bouncy. About this size.”
“Bloatus!” Grimtar boomed. A tall, thin Weaver with an enormous head emerged from the crowd, walking slowly to balance his top-heavy noggin. With one flick of his razor sharp fingernail, Grimtar decapitated him. Bubbling sewage spewed like a geyser from Bloatus’ neck. Grimtar offered the dripping head to Barry. “Bloatus bouncy.”
Bloatus smiled nervously up at Barry, resigned to do his master’s bidding. With a shrug, Barry dropped the head and it sprung back up into his hands. Bloatus was indeed bouncy.
“We need two more volunteers.”
The Weavers argued among themselves. Annoyed, Grimtar snatched up two reluctant players; one by its arm and the other by its foot. They both thrashed in the air in protest as Grimtar introduced them, “Huncher. Sneer.”
Barry motioned them to their squares, allowing Grimtar to be king. This suited him very much. Barry demonstrated the game by bouncing Bloatus’ head to Grimtar. Grimtar bounced the makeshift ball to Huncher. Huncher caught it and bit off a piece of Bloatus’ nose.
“Catching the ball is a foul,” Barry said, then thoughtfully added, “Eating’s not allowed either.”
Huncher frowned and bounced the ball back. Barry hit it to Sneer. He looked at the boy just as his name implied, the ball sailing past him.
“You’re out if the ball goes out of bounds,” Barry explained. “The idea is to eliminate the other players.”
“Fun,” Grimtar grunted, reaching for Bloatus. “Play four-square.”
Grimtar served Bloatus to Barry softly and Barry bounced it to Huncher, noting the wince on Bloatus’ face when he struck the ground. Huncher bounced it back to Grimtar and Sneer pouted when he was left out. Several plays passed without a disqualification, disappointing Barry. He needed the beast to slam it hard enough to create a portal, but Grimtar was surprisingly gentle. When Huncher bounced Bloatus into his square, Barry baited Grimtar.
“CHERRY-BOMB!!!” he shouted, slamming the head into Huncher’s corner. Bloatus flew up straight and high, well above Huncher’s outstretched arms, throwing him off completely. Shocked, he stared up into the darkness. This was a nasty trick, but Barry figured that something as devious as the cherry-bomb would play well in the bowels of Hell. The ball descended quickly, striking a wild-eyed Huncher square in his misshapen face.
“The meat-snack cheated!” Huncher hissed. With a heavy blow, Grimtar sent the Weaver sailing and smiled a wide, toothy grin.
“Me like cherry-bomb,” he said. “Play.”
This time, Barry made it a point to serve to Sneer. Delighted to be included, he tapped the severed head to Grimtar’s square. A charge surged up Grimtar’s arm and Barry prepared for a monster slam, waiting until the head was in Grimtar’s reach and then darting away. The beast applied so much force that even Sneer’s expression changed. Bloatus’ head crashed down, plunging him into the ground. Blue flames spiraled into the crater, electric smoke trailing behind. Grimtar peered down in proud amazement and the Weavers cheered.
Spotting his backyard below, Barry jumped without hesitation and left Hell just in time for supper. The hole closed behind him with a thunder clap and he skipped to the back door, gladly leaving Hell behind.
Grimtar, too stupid to realize what had happened and too eager to play again, selected another head. The others reluctantly joined in, but Huncher was content to wait for another cherry-bomb. A delicious meal was waiting on the other side.
Keep watching the Stitched Smile Groupies page or this blog for next week’s challenge.. See you there!